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Don't Tell My Mother: How to Fight War on Your Own Terms

Don't Tell My Mother: How to Fight War on Your Own Terms

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Don't Tell My Mother: How to Fight War on Your Own Terms

439 pages
7 heures
Aug 11, 2000


Peter Duggan-Smith was born in 1916 to an actress mother. As she was always on the move he was brought up by two maiden aunts until he was accepted to train for a sea-going career on the cadet ship H.M.S. Conway. It was on the last of several voyages to New Zealand as a Merchant Navy apprentice that his life of adventure began — though it did not always turn out as he had planned! The one constant in Peter's life was his love of flying; by the end of his final flight in Cambodia in 1974, he had racked up more than 17,000 flying hours--in no less than 70 types of piston-engine aircraft. Peter was small in stature, but a giant among adventurers, with a rare ability to take the reader along with him through his many escapades.

Raymond Eagle, FSA Scot., is a historian with a particular interest in Scottish and military history. His early years were spent in Eastleigh, Hampshire where, at the age of ten, he had a grandstand view of the Battle of Britain. This gave him a life-long interest in aviation and a great respect for his boyhood heroes, the aircrews of the RAF and Dominion air forces. In 1949 he joined the British army as a national serviceman and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery, spending two years in Hong Kong before continuing in the Territorial Army (Militia). Arriving in Canada in March 1967 with his wife and two young sons, he worked for twenty years in executive positions with various medical charities, writing purely as a hobby. Articles published included such areas as history, environment, health and travel. In November 1991, Eagle's first book was published in Scotland by Lochar Publishing of Moffat, Seton Gordon — The Life and Times of a Highland Gentleman, a biography of the well-known Scottish naturalist, historian and photographer, who wrote 27 books on the Highlands and Hebrides.

Aug 11, 2000

À propos de l'auteur

Peter Duggan-Smith was born in 1916 to an actress mother. As she was always on the move he was brought up by two maiden aunts until he was accepted to train for a sea-going career on the cadet ship H.M.S. Conway. It was on the last of several voyages to New Zealand as a Merchant Navy apprentice that his life of adventure began -- though it did not always turn out as he had planned!

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Don't Tell My Mother - Peter Duggan-Smith



There is something very persuasive about a .45 calibre revolver pointed at your face by a semi-hysterical young man who is obviously intent on robbing you, or killing, or both. I was also in real danger of being strangled by a second assailant who had a firm grip on my neck from behind.

This scene took place in Phnom Penh in late September, 1974 and my anger at getting myself into this situation made me lash out at the pistol-wielding Cambodian, which caused him to drop the weapon. Several pieces broke from the butt of the gun and a bullet spilled from the breach which I have to this day.

The second Cambodian held on tightly despite my success in disarming his companion, who recovered the gun and then belted me across the forehead. As I lay semi-conscious they tied me to my bed with a dressing-gown cord and some torn-up sheets.

They got away on a motor scooter while I hammered on the door of a Cambodian neighbour, Paul, who finally let me in. He was equally nervous and greeted me with an M-16 at the ready. His evening was ruined also; his girlfriend was called from his bed to help clean me up while Paul went to get transport to drive me to the Calumet French hospital. When I checked later the thieves had got away with $700 in cash, a camera, tape recorder and a few other easily disposable items in Phnom Penh’s flourishing black market.

Life had been reasonably good to me since arriving in Cambodia to help set up an airline in 1970. The titles of Vice-President of various companies read well on business cards. I lived well, but still managed to accumulate $30,000 which I had stupidly invested in one of the companies. Even in 1972 the prospects looked encouraging, but by 19741 realized it was time to start looking for a way out. The bash on my head was obviously an omen to begin the process.

Lying in my hospital bed it dawned on me that I was at a very low ebb and in the worst mess of a life filled with ups and downs. How, I asked myself, did I get into this situation? The answer takes a bit of telling so perhaps it is time to begin.


Conway Boy

Never underestimate the power of a woman. In the year 1936 Edward VIII and I quit our respective positions. He abdicated the throne of England and I broke my indentures with the Shaw, Saville and Albion shipping company by jumping ship in Auckland, New Zealand.

The King’s decision, we now know, came after months of personal turmoil and political pressure. Mine was an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment act, brought about by a severe attack of ‘calf-love’ aided by a large intake of ‘Dutch courage’ consumed with another rebellious shipmate. In doing so I abandoned a professional sea career and threw aside four years of rigorous training that had included two years as a cadet in the famous wooden-walled ship, HMS Conway.

The former king may have had moments of regret. I can honestly say that while I may have had fleeting memories of that decisive day, there has never been a moment of remorse about my action. If all I heard later is true, it is quite certain the company for whom I made four-and-a-half voyages between London and the Antipodes was equally uncaring.

My infatuation turned out to be a relatively brief one, the mere forerunner of many in a variety of places around the globe. I have no reason to regret this fact either. Women’s libbers may wish to think that there is no difference between the sexes, but I do know better and at any time will lead a chorus of Vive la différence!

It is difficult to know whether rolling stones are born or made. Though born in Radcliffe, Lancashire, I was raised in the southern English county of Kent and there was nothing in my middle-class upbringing to indicate that I would roll many times with the best of them, both literally and figuratively.

My father was a World War I artilleryman who, while on leave from the front in 1916, married my actress mother. I came along later in that same year. After the war he tried working in a bank for a year but gave it up to join my mother in the theatrical world. I saw little of them after that and was raised by a strict grandmother and two maiden aunts. All were staunch Catholics and under their influence, assisted by a teaching order called the Christian Brothers, I became what could be called a ‘hammered-in Christian’. The Brothers’ system was simple and has got them into quite a bit of trouble since; if you can’t get it in with kindness, a taste of the stick may do the trick.

The English middle-class then believed it important for boys to have a sense of direction, and adults were only too ready to assist the poor little blighters to achieve that goal. That was how, in January 1933,1 became a small, bewildered, and frightened cadet in the naval ship Conway. It was originally HMS Nile, an old ‘wooden wall,’ long past its prime, moored in the Mersey near Rock Ferry. A succession of ships bearing that proud name had been producing officers for the Merchant and Royal Navy and countless servants of the Crown for the best part of a century.

It was a big step forward for a 16-year-old-who, only months before, had not the foggiest notion of what he intended to do with his life. I felt, and still do, a warm affection for those long-dead relatives who financed and steered me in this direction, though the thought may have crossed their minds that it was also an opportunity to get rid of the little bastard.

All I knew about my immediate future was what I had read in the ship’s brochure. However, with that fertile imagination peculiar to lonely children I had already convinced myself that I would one day become a ship’s captain—and with a bit of luck along the way might even wind up as an Admiral of the Fleet.

The original Conway, which received its first intake of cadets in February, 1859, was a 26-gun wooden frigate of 652 tons. She was 30 years old and far too small for this new role so within a few years was replaced by HMS Winchester, a 60-gun fourth-rated ship-of-the-line. By 1874 the cadet intake had grown to more than 100 and the third and final Conway arrived in the Mersey, a magnificent 4,375 ton, 91-gun second-rated ship-of-the-line, HMS Nile.

The demands for co-education had not yet surfaced and the ship operated in an almost completely male environment. If the ship still existed today it would be interesting to see how the commissioners would deal with the demands of co-education. I have little doubt, though, about the reaction of the male cadet body with female cadets in a wardroom of hammocks. Now there is a notion to stimulate Freudian dreams!

My basic uniform, plus officers’ cap and trench coat, had arrived from the outfitter’s department of the Sailors’ Home, Liverpool. I had been instructed to catch the noon train from London’s Euston Station to Liverpool. From here I would take the Mersey ferry which would complete my trip to HMS Conway.

I began the trip from Tunbridge Wells station, on the crowded business train, praying that no other uniformed people would turn up as I was uncertain whom I should salute. The friendly station master loomed along the platform in his smart railway garb, took one look at my uniform and with a sly wink tossed me a salute before helping me and my overloaded suitcase into an already full compartment. I tried to be inconspicuous but a dear old lady wasn’t to be repulsed. As I stood crimson-cheeked she plied me with questions about my budding maritime career. I’m afraid my bluffing answers may really have revealed my total ignorance of things nautical.

On arrival at the Rock Ferry pier with several other new cadets we were met by a very scruffy individual who said something about ‘new chums’ and ordered us to follow him. We went down a ramp to board the No. 1 boat from Conway. At the stern was a large, ruddy-faced young man at the tiller. He was ‘Nobby’ Clark, cadet captain in charge of No. 1 boat. We new cadets were directed aft of the engine. Our guide took his place at the bows and we cast off. These seasoned cadets looked very rough and ready in their dark blue shirts with no collars or ties and caps looking as though they had been through the mangle. Compared to them we new chums looked like Little Lord Fauntleroys.

We were led down to the orlop deck and introduced to our cadet captain, ‘Eggie’ Vaughan. Our term intake was split, four of us in the starboard fo’c’sle (forecastle) and the remaining three in the port fo’c’sle. From our sea chests we had to check out our work clothes, sea boots, oilskins and all the other gear foisted on us by the Sailors’ Home clothing department.

I still remember all the cadets in my term; Alan Anderson from Edinburgh; Tommy Tune, from nearby Rock Ferry; W.J. Brown from the Midlands; D.N. Mathews, a Welshman; J.T. Mackereth, who came from India and E.M. Botham, whose home area I cannot recall. We had much adjusting to do. The first thing we learned, was that everything in HMS Conway was done at the double. The ship was divided into two divisions, port and starboard. Our intake of seven was the smallest on record so to make up the numbers some of the term immediately before us were held back. I suspect that most of these were cadets who would benefit from another term in the fo’c’sle. They did not welcome us with open arms, but were all too willing to brief us on the pitfalls that lay ahead.

We newcomers of the January 1933 intake were particularly fortunate in having ‘Eggie’ Vaughan as our Cadet Captain. He came from a seafaring family and his father was a P & O Line captain as well as an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve. Vaughan’s nickname came from his egg-shaped head in which, we soon learned, was a great deal of grey matter. He was a competent leader who quickly won our respect and confidence. Eggie also helped us weather bad moments like our first night, when those held-back second termers told us of the horrible fate that awaited us as newcomers.

Port and starboard divisions were divided into four ‘tops’; the fo’c’sle top, the mizzen, main and foretop. There was also the quarterdeck top which was in fact the ship’s band. We new ‘chums’ were responsible for the orlop deck, which was the sleeping deck, a confined area lighted with small bulbs, so dim it’s a wonder we didn’t all go blind. We quickly learned how to sling a hammock and get in and out of it without breaking our necks.

Food was served in mess groups, with two members of each mess appointed to fetch the food and mugs of tea from the galley. We ate in the main deck area where the deckhead tables doubled as dining tables and class desks. Conway was hardly noted for its cuisine; from the inescapable breakfast porridge, through soddock (a type of bread) and some yellow stuff which passed as butter, it was one of the dullest, least exciting menus ever devised, yet we lived and flourished on it which says much for the digestive system of young boys. With the healthy life we were leading and the daily hard work there were few complaints about the quality. The food was prepared and cooked by an individual known as ‘Greasy’ Gray who, like all ships’ cooks, had become an emperor in his own domain. Fortunately most cadets could augment their diet with food parcels from home and whatever extras we could obtain from the ship’s canteen.

The canteen was a blessing, though our spending there was limited to 30 shillings per term. It was run by the ship’s padre. It was Sunday dinner I looked forward to with the greatest anticipation. It was always roast beef with plenty of roast spuds and a welcome contrast to the humdrum weekday fare.

The course was of two years’ duration, divided into six terms of three months each, plus vacation time. After this, upon graduating there was a period of sea-time. I realized well before the end of the first term that to succeed I would need to be thoroughly initiated in survival tactics.

In my time, Conway was largely supported by Alfred Holt and Co. (the Blue Funnel Line). Even though we were primarily destined for the Merchant Navy, Conway had a tight link with the Royal Navy and all its cadets were members of the Royal Navy Reserve. Some aspects of the navy were left out of the curriculum; there was no gunnery or weapons training. In all other respects it was sound and equivalent to that of an English public school. The main difference was the on-going study of both navigation and seamanship. The instruction was excellent and I began to enjoy mathematics, a subject previously a mystery to me. Through its practical application in navigation, I became a good navigator, which stood me in good stead throughout my later career in flying.

Discipline was based on naval tradition going back over several centuries. One of the privileges of a cadet captain was the right to carry and use a ‘teaser,’ a specially prepared rope’s end which could be applied to the backside of any slothful or ill-mannered junior cadet. It was equivalent to the prefect’s cane in a public school and used in the same fashion. In the language of HMS Conway it was called ‘bumming.’

Despite my small size I was able to keep up with the largest and strongest cadets, from the 6 a.m. bugle reveille and cries of Wakey, wakey, rise and shine by Petty Officer ‘Burdy’ Burfitt, to the lights out call to hammocks in the evening. Burfitt was a bellower and his initial call provoked a mad rush to the washroom for the dubious pleasure of a quick splash in cold water. We had hot water once a week, on bath night. Conditions were primitive enough but some who preceded us were worse off. In 1867 the Mersey froze over solidly from bank to bank.

Speed was an asset. With speed you could avoid trouble, but God help the new chum who failed to lash and stow his hammock in the required 60 seconds. Cadet captains were the prefects who kept and maintained the ship’s discipline. All new chums discovered that to aspire to be a cadet captain they would have to survive the all-important fourth term, when hopes of becoming first a junior, then senior cadet captain blossomed or died. Fifth termers who made junior captain might well succeed to senior rank in the final sixth term.

Sixth termers, even if they failed to gain the rank of cadet captain, held an elevated position known as quarter boy (QBs), because they had completed one quarter of their sea time. This title permitted certain privileges that included bullying rights on Sundays, though only junior and senior cadet captains had the status to take a teaser and go about ‘bumming’ juniors. The rules were jealously guarded and whacking people on the behind may seem a primitive, ridiculous and possibly even dangerous right today, but it was the accepted norm then. This punishment was sometimes given out of spite or malice, but this rarely happened during my time on Conway. One antidote to malice was that whatever the punishment, both cadets had to shake hands afterwards.

That tradition was shattered during my early days on Conway when a large Canadian cadet, after being bummed for the first time, turned and, instead of shaking hands, knocked his cadet captain flat on the deck with a punch to the jaw. They forgave him. He was just a colonial who didn’t understand the rules!

So, under conditions that today’s educational molly-coddlers would label shocking and intolerable, scores of cadets survived and flourished. Young males are tougher—and smarter—than the ‘experts’ imagine. Fortunately the staff who taught and led us were wise enough to understand this fact.

We found, in fact, that newcomers were excused from bumming for the first two weeks on board to give time to learn the rules and how to avoid punishment. Still our curiosity and fears were heightened by the display of teasers hung on pegs in the senior cadet captain’s day room. Each teaser was carefully perfected by the owner, some of them soaked in brine to make them sting more—and sting they did, as I soon found out. By the end of my first term my report was much better than I had hoped for, and I departed on the vacation break thankful that my ‘new chum’ days were over.

During most of my time in Conway the Captain/Superintendent was Commander F.A. Richardson, DSC, RN. He commanded Conway from 1927 to 1934. To the cadets, for reasons unknown, he was known as ‘Dirty Dick.’ We saw a good deal of him and his wife ‘Ma R,’ and their daughter Peggy, whose presence created some heavy breathing among the cadets, not helped by the fact that the Richardsons had living quarters on the ship. The Commander was one of a group known as the ‘Famishing Fifty.’ These were officers who, in the post-1918 naval reductions were kept on by the Royal Navy on condition they retained the rank of commander for the balance of their naval career.

As a regular navy officer, Commander Richardson was a source of pride to the ship’s complement. To be commanded by a Royal Navy officer was to be a cut above the other two naval training establishments, which were not. Assisting him were other professionals: Commander Monty Douglas; Chief Officer ‘Hoppy’ Lee, who limped from a old ankle wound; Lt. Commander Couch, whose sharp tongue won him the unofficial title of ‘Sarky’; Lieut. ‘Loopy’ Lane and an assortment of lesser lights. Lee was rough and tough but we found him honest and fair.

The scholastic staff included civilians who came aboard each day. Headmaster ‘Boggy’ Marchant was an amiable individual and an excellent navigation instructor, but unfortunately best conversed with from a distance as he had acute B.O. Also on staff was a Spanish gentleman who did his best to impart a working knowledge of his language.

The padre, who was also in charge of the tuck shop, was known as ‘Twink’ (and was very pigeon-toed). We deposited our pocket money with him, and he kept a fatherly eye on the cadet captain who actually ran the tuck shop. Another of his responsibilities was the ship’s sports programme and small people like me found it advisable to keep on his good side if we hoped to be selected for the ship’s rugger or cricket team. He was a full-time staff member, responsible for the routine Anglicanism dispensed on the vessel.

As a Roman Catholic I was excused from Conway services but had to attend religious instruction at the local parish church each Saturday morning and go to mass on Sundays. The Saturday leave got us Catholics off one hour’s work and on Sundays allowed us to ogle the local Rock Ferry girls, while the rest of ship’s company listened attentively to Twink.

One Saturday, as I was going ashore for my religious instruction, Twink gave me twopence asked me to make a phone call for him. He explained that he would be unable to attend an arranged meeting with the Bishop of Liverpool. He had written down the number of the Bishop’s palace for me. I made the call and nearly dropped the receiver when a voice answered Littlewood Football Pools. I eventually found the Bishop’s number, but never said a word to Twink about his slip-up. He went up in my estimation, even though it cost me another ‘tuppence.’

The English boarding school system, with some evidence to support the charge, has often been accused of fostering homosexuality. Even such a formidable critic as old Harrovian Winston Churchill linked the navy to rum and sodomy. I was never aware of any such problems. The smaller and younger boys were, in their second term, usually sent to the mizzen tops where they were jokingly referred to as ‘squeekers’ (or ‘the women’). Some of them were the toughest little bastards in the ship. One of them, a few terms junior to me, was later to be awarded both the VC (Victoria Cross) and the DSC (Distinguished Service Cross).

The ship’s company was, in any case, small enough that there were few secrets. Where offences were found, the cadet captains were quick with the teasers. Theoretically one could be bummed for not obeying the rules but generally punishment came only for rudeness or stupidity. Although bad manners at the meal table were frowned upon, the truth is that table deportment was one subject not taught in HMS Conway. The rush for food was a primeval struggle and hijacking food from another top was common. The cry, muster for spares (seconds) provoked near mob scenes.

In the matter of language, conversation was pretty coarse. We all tried to outdo one another and it sometimes had repercussions. Some cadets unthinkingly carried the habit home on vacation, sometimes resulting in protest letters to the commander. One young mizzentopman, whose father was a parson, made family history when, home at the end of his first term, asked his younger sister to pass the fucking grease.

Crude language was accepted on the sports field, for Conway cadets played hard, often and, mostly very well. Pugnacity was a virtue in the eyes of the top brass and boxing was compulsory for all cadets. The bloodstained canvas, laid out on the deck in the ship’s hold put the fear of God into some of us and I had already decided that He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. This was not always put into practice. I was once pitted against a cadet named P.C. Rendle, who was a stone heavier than me, but a year younger. This was supposed to even things up. I only recall a flailing of arms and gloves and the wild look in Rendle’s eyes. It was obvious that boxing was not my cup of tea, though I particularly enjoyed rugger and cricket, eventually getting my second fifteen colours—then screwing everything up by slipping a cartilage while fielding a ball at cricket. I have favoured my right knee for the past sixty years.

Rowing and sailing were a part of our training and the cutters and dinghies were used competitively between tops. The best oarsmen manned the Captain’s gig and once a year a crew was selected for the annual Conway-Worcester boat race. It was held alternatively on the Thames at Greenhithe, where HMS Worcester was moored and on the Mersey at Rock Ferry. It was one of the big events of the year, but as I remember, Conway seldom won.

Our dress varied. During the week we wore dark viyella shirts and No. 2 reefers. On Sundays and a few special days we donned white shirts and ties. Outer clothing consisted of navy blue raincoats or a British Warm topcoat. Even dress had its privilege; only senior cadets were permitted to wear their collars up. First, second and third termers had to suffer the drenching rain and wind which were part of the Merseyside climate, without the comfort of upturned collars. Privilege could still play its part; cadet captains could allow their valets to turn up their collars without fear of the teaser. If all of this sounds undemocratic, the answer isn’t hard to find. We put up with this nonsense and awaited the day when it would be our turn to dish it out.

One of the worst chores was ‘coaling ship’ (one of the worst on any ship at that time). Each of the senior tops in rotating shifts had to move the coal from the ship’s bunker up to the boiler house on the upper deck. This was usually done on Thursday evenings and except for the lucky cadet who got the job of winchman it was a filthy job. Some cadets who were flush in funds would pay another cadet to take their place and there were always takers, the going rate was one shilling.

Though there may have been complaints about table manners, another social grace was taken care of in the form of dancing lessons. These were offered once a week in the winter term by Miss Ann Struthers Dancing Academy. This consisted of Miss Struthers and four females of indeterminate age who were brought along to teach the not too enthusiastic cadets in the art of waltzing and the military two-step. During my two years only about a dozen cadets were induced to take this course. Most of the time these cadets found themselves partnered together as they waited their turn to tussle with the representatives of the fair sex for a few turns around the small area of main deck partitioned off by canvass. Our non-dancing comrades made sport of the already self-conscious students who were paired together with cries of, Hold me tight, Charlie and Kiss me, Gorgeous coming from the other side of the screen. The latter remark was aimed at my partner W.R. Sturdy who later became an RAF Wing-Commander and won a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. He was a Canadian and a term junior to me.

So my life went for two years, during which I became a junior cadet captain in my fifth term. As cadet captain in charge of bathrooms I alone had the right to a hot bath every day of the week. No more battling the scrum that accompanied the weekly bath nights allotted to the rest of the ship’s company. In that summer of 1934 I was the cleanest Conway boy alive.

My last summer vacation was spent as a supernumerary cadet with the Lamport and Holt Line. With two other Conways, Wilkinson and Russell-Flint whose father was a painter and Royal Academician, I joined the cruise ship Van Dyke and we had a whale of a time as the ship visited Casablanca, Madeira, Tenerife and Lisbon. We stood watch on the bridge, danced with the teenage passengers and, after two years of Conway rations, stuffed ourselves silly in the dining room. I don’t think I added much to my sea-going knowledge, except if this is the life at sea, count me in.

During my last term I became senior cadet captain of the starboard foretop and it was hard to believe I had once been a new chum. I like to think all Conway cadets left with an enhanced sense of responsibility. Tradition and duty were then still a part of what was expected in life. More importantly, the discipline instilled in us would come to our aid in the dodgier times ahead. More New Chums would get their first taste of the teaser and hope to become quarter boys at the very least.

‘Haggis’ Anderson, ‘Sooky’ Tune and myself had applied for cadetships with the Shaw, Saville and Albion Line, a company long established in the frozen meat trade between Europe, Australia and New Zealand. All three of us were accepted and Anderson and myself were instructed to join the M/V Wairangi in early January, 1935. She was one of three new fast refrigerated-cargo ships and this was her maiden voyage. She also carried twelve cabin-class passengers, guaranteeing an excellent menu for deck officers, which of course included the cadets. It turned out to be a bit of a bind, though a small price to pay, having to change into dress uniforms for every meal.

The Wairangi carried five deck officers including the captain. The cadets’ treatment depended on the whim of the chief officer. Anderson and I shared a two-berth cabin next to the senior cadet, who lived in solitary splendour. Close by was accommodation for the wireless officer. We had our own bathroom and shared a steward. Our hammock days were behind us.

We were off to an amazingly good start because our senior cadet was none other than ‘Eggie’ Vaughan. For the second time in our lives he guided us and taught us how to carry out the many duties required of a company cadet. Chief Officer ‘Bucko’ Hart let it be known that the Wairangi was going to be the smartest and cleanest ship in the company. We came to the conclusion that it would be the smartest ship in the British Merchant service the way he drove us. From Liverpool to Cape Town, we sanded and holystoned until the bridge and boat-deck gleamed like the quarter-deck of a cruiser. From Cape Town to Freemantle we painted, chipped and painted again. There is no doubt that shipping companies got their pound of flesh from the cadet/apprentices in the thirties. Our pay was one pound sterling a month, about eight pence a day, but we never worried. We ate well, put on weight and under the tropical sun, put on the hue of an Arab.

We also learned to drink beer in quantity, chased the girls from Free-mantle to Cairns and from Auckland to the Bluff. It was in Auckland that I met a girl named Cushla. She was later to change my life.

It was a good voyage; too good in fact because Bucko decided that three Conways in one ship were too many. I was transferred to the Zealandic, an older but similar type of vessel. Again I was bound for Australia and New Zealand, but this time we had outbound cargo for Ceylon, most unusual for Shaw, Saville who normally routed via the Cape or Panama. The experience of a trip through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal was looked forward to by all deck personnel. I had my first view of Gibraltar, was chased by the Gyppos in Port Said, robbed by Arabs in Aden and got my first and last attack of sun-stroke in the Red Sea.

Our voyages normally took three to four months; a month out, six to eight weeks discharging and loading cargo and a month home. By late 1935 I was back in London, where we tied up in the Royal Albert Docks. Here I got my first view of the misery and despair of the thousands of unemployed. I had very little money but at least we cadets had a cabin and a small daily allowance for food while we stood by the ship. Many ships were tied up indefinitely but again I was fortunate to be transferred to the SS Forsdale, an oil-burning steamer. The economy was so bad that we were heading for New Zealand via the Panama in ballast. There would be no profit made on this voyage, but little did anyone realize as we cast-off how costly it would finally be.

Three days out into the Atlantic all hell broke loose and I experienced my first North Atlantic winter gale. Being in ballast the ship was so ‘tender’ we pitched and rolled dangerously. I was scared stiff and even the officers had pained expressions that suggested they wished they were somewhere else. The galley staff really had problems and food was down to basics. None of us had any sleep for about four days and then the seas gradually abated, the sun broke through the heavy layers of cloud and we resumed our daily routine.

The senior cadet was a New Zealander named Shirtcliff who was busy swatting for his second mate’s certificate. Most of the work fell on me and another ex-Conway cadet, Wilfred Dixon. Little did we know then that Shirtcliff would end up in the Royal Australian Air Force and would not survive the war, while Dixon would become a doctor. As the voyage progressed there were several conferences between the captain and chief engineer. We were eventually told that the pounding we had taken had strained our plates and we were taking water. The radio operator further informed us that the ship would be dry-docked at the US naval base at Balboa for an examination.

As usual we had no money but Shirtcliff was a smooth operator. He conned three American nurses to meet us at a beer garden in Panama City. The waiter kept putting pieces of paper into a glass in the centre of the table. This was my first introduction to running a tab but Dixon and I were without the wherewithal and had no intention of financing Shirtcliff’s bid at international relations. At the first opportunity we beat it, got lost in the red light district until we were rescued by a US Navy petty officer. He took us to a blue movie, bought us unlimited beer and finally took us back to the quarters where we were billeted during our enforced stay. His parting comment was that if we had been his sons he would have beat the living daylights out of us. He warned us to stay out of Panama City or we would get more than our fingers burnt.

We finally arrived in New Zealand where I renewed my friendship with the de Lange family, more especially their daughter, Cushla. The family had been most hospitable on my previous visit. Both Cushla and her brother Theo were born in India where de Lange senior had worked for the Indian Civil Service. For the sake of his children he retired to New Zealand where his pension went further and the climate was more acceptable than the United Kingdom, their place of origin. Auckland had several emigre families and we merchant navy cadets spent many evenings and weekends trying to seduce their daughters—with little success. All had been well trained by mem-sahib mothers and no impecunious young man had a hope until their futures were better assured.

A further six weeks around the coast, calling at Gisbourne, Napier, Wellington, Lyttleton, Christchurch and our final port, Dunedin, brought a string of equally attractive girls but no conquests. Now we were so broke that even the thought of London was endurable. We berthed as usual in the Royal Albert Docks, said goodbye to Shirtcliff and, with the rest of the crew, were paid off. I received seventeen shillings after a four-month voyage. Cadets were expected to stand by the ship, that is, to remain on board

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